I have a somewhat unhealthy relationship with control. I rely on having it a little too much. Throw me an unexpected traffic jam, and I’ll feel no more or less anxious than the next person. However, when control goes AWOL from the bigger areas of my life my stress levels sky rocket.
I have been seeing my psychologist for years now. Some visits neither of us have to work hard to tweak things. But whenever there’s a larger life issue I’m struggling with, my distress almost always comes down to my lack of control over an undesirable situation. For me one of the worst-case scenarios are sleep deprivation combined with the stress of a sick child. The reason this combination is so triggering is that it is kryptonite to my defences against a bipolar episode. (Sleep deprivation especially accompanied by stress is a major risk factor for developing manic and psychotic episodes)
This said, I firmly believe the universe sometimes sits back stroking its chin and assesses where I’m at. And then as though giving me a cosmic performance review, it points out areas for improvement, and gives me the opportunities to practice the life skills I lack. Clearly, I still need a lot of practice accepting a lack of control, because I have been sent the following homework:
August is birthday month for me, several family members and friends, and is heralded by jasmine buds pointing their tender, pink noses at the sun all through late July. If I had no devices to track time with, I’d know August is here when those buds burst open into white flowers, suddenly like popcorn, perfuming the air with the anticipation of a fresh year.
Given how excited I get over cake and a party you could be forgiven for thinking I’m six. I’m about to turn forty-five. And I’m finding increasingly that people of my vintage grimace at, rather than celebrate being a year older. This puzzles me for several reasons. Still being alive is one of them. Then of course there’s cake.
In our first world society martyrdom is more insidious than the lick of flames on skin, the sizzle as fire catches hair. If you don’t count what can happen on social media, we don’t have public disembowellings. And the causes we sacrifice ourselves for are often not great, necessary, or noble.
Martyrdom today is working until midnight every night doing a job you hate until it breaks you, without investigating your options. It is smugly telling your mothers’ group that you breastfed your baby as your cracked nipples dripped blood, because you were doing what was ‘best for your baby’. It’s going to work even though you’ve got the flu, because you believe you are indispensable. It is having Sunday lunch with your extended family every week even though it drains you emotionally.
Most of us fall into the trap of martyring ourselves for something at some stage. I did so early on in my career.
I had an entirely different post planned and almost ready to go this week. I lost momentum, and its tone remained whiny, even with repeated editing. So instead, here are some snapshots of my last couple of weeks:
Brisbane takes it’s sweet time moving into autumn and winter. The hot days and humid nights seem to loiter for longer every year. Then one day you realise that air conditioning is unecessary and sweat is no longer a constant companion to skin. The introduced species of trees begin to glow sunset colours before they shed their summer coats, and brittle leaves scuttle along the footpaths.
I spent the first days of this week on the windblown roof of a sky scraper. It was so tall that the air felt thin, and my stomach was in free fall. The sky scraper was my heart. Most of the time my brain rules my heart. It translates emotion into logic, even in moments when emotion is appropriate. Seven days ago, I heard these words pertaining to my father:
‘Massive heart attack, nearly died in ambulance, going in for emergency triple bypass surgery now.’